Sister Elaine Gentile, SNDdeN (formerly Ellen John)
July 18, 1931 – June 4, 2019
“I feel the Lord provides.As our lives evolve, God prepares us for the work ahead.”
The truth of Elaine’s words is borne out by the life she lived. When her parents left their native home in Italy for America, God was still in the process of “preparing” Elaine in her mother’s womb– along with her twin brother, John. (Being with would ever after be one of her special gifts!) The Lord did indeed provide for both of them. The crossing was safe, and they came to birth in Eddystone, PA.
Elaine was baptized Elena Violetta (Viola) Gentile – appropriately under the watchful eye of St. Anthony of Padua, at a church in Chester (PA) that bore his name. Already, God was preparing her for the work ahead – to share in the life and mission of Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve.
Elaine’s parents saw that she received a solid parochial-school foundation for her subsequent education at Notre Dame High School, Moylan (PA). After graduation, she worked for two years. But God had sown the seeds of Notre Dame life in her heart during her Moylan days, and her SND teachers had nurtured them. So, when she turned 20, Elaine gave up her job and answered the call to our congregation. The remarkable life that was to evolve, and “the work ahead” for which God was preparing her, would be deeply rooted in the charism of St. Julie Billiart. Like Julie, Elaine would become “a woman filled with love for God and God’s people,” eager “to commit her life completely to God,” and “to spread everywhere the Gospel message that God is indeed good.” (SND Constitutions, Article 1)
She would do so in a whole variety of ways. During her first twenty-one years of ministry, Elaine put her heart into elementary education at parish schools: Miraculous Medal (Ridgewood, NY), St. Jerome (Hyattsville, MD), Our Lady of Victory (Baltimore) and St. Thomas More (Decatur, GA). All the while, she was gaining insight into the challenges facing the people God was calling her to serve. Her primary work was in the classroom with first graders, but as she was serving God’s little ones, she was also building relationships with their parents, her fellow teachers, the parishioners, her neighbors. He gentle, listening heart learned much from these companions on the journey. That learning and experience became foundational for what would be the next “work” God had in store for her.
The evolution was gradual. Accounts of her years in Decatur (GA) show her being drawn to “the peripheries.” We see her volunteering in outreach programs to bring economic assistance, tutoring services and health care to people of need in the surrounding area. We see her welcoming the opportunity for summer study in religious education at LaSalle University (PA). We watch her horizons expand in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. In all of these ways, God was preparing Elaine for a new work – to serve as Coordinator of Religious Education at St. Thomas More Parish. Building on her elementary-school teaching experience as well as her studies, she developed a wide spectrum of RE programs and services for people of all ages and conditions —K-12, special education opportunities, adult education, field experience. Applying her natural bent for building relationships, she drew others into her work. Teenagers were recruited and trained to work one-on-one with children having special needs. Priests at Emory University were signed up to lecture in theology and spirituality. The Lord provides! Her RE experience stood her in good stead when she moved back to Baltimore in 1974 as Religious Education Coordinator there.
But God was still not finished working away at his potter’s wheel. Elaine’s RE experience had awakened a still deeper longing in her heart: “I wanted to give comfort and support to persons who are suffering,” she said, and “I thought my religious-education background would be helpful in pastoral ministry.” Our lives evolve! Elaine enrolled in Clinical Pastoral Education classes, followed by a demanding CPE internship. She earned certification for hospital ministry from the National Association of Catholic Chaplains. Then, while searching for a full-time chaplaincy position, she pieced together weekday secretarial work at Trinity College (DC) with a weekend chaplaincy at Georgetown University Hospital. In time, hospital openings came. Elaine spent seven years as Pastoral Associate at St. Joseph’s in Kansas City (MO): twenty more at Mercy Catholic Medical Center (PA); and nine years as On-Call Pastoral Associate/Chaplain at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore—36 years in all. The Lord had provided again, in abundance!
The position at St. Agnes meant moving into a housing development within easy reach. In the providence of God, she found herself living a mere stone’s throw from St. Martin’s Home, where the Little Sisters of the Poor were always looking for volunteers; and her beloved Our Lady of Victory, where she had taught first grade in the 1960’s. In both settings, she happily set about building relationships with people and staff. What more could Elaine ask?
By the time a well-deserved retirement appeared on the horizon, Elaine had at her fingertips abundant opportunity to use her gifts and experience in spreading the Gospel message that God is good. Her ministry became one of prayer, presence and hospitality. For her, retirement became “doing what you love to do”—
Even when her diminishing health necessitated a move to Mount Notre Dame in 2017, the call of Jesus to “love one another as I have loved you” still ruled. An article in Crossroads includes a photo that speaks volumes. There she is at an SND Service Corps event, helping cook a meal for trainees and volunteers so they could sit down together for table fellowship!
Elaine’s life brings to mind Mother Teresa’s advice:
However swiftly the Lord came in the end to take Elaine home, Elaine was ready. In the course of so much remarkable work, she had made sure to continue to love in “the small things from everyday life” – the drops of oil that made her lamp burn vividly. She had tended her lamp well. In the light of its love, she could see him – and rejoice!
Born Elena Violetta (Viola) Gentile, July 18, 1931, Eddystone, PA
Baptized October 18, 1931, St. Anthony Catholic Church, Chester, PA
Parents: Nicola and Rosina Gentile (Both born in Bucchianico, Chieti, ITALY)
Brothers: John (Elaine’s twin) and Victor Gentile
Entered Notre Dame August 12, 1951, Ilchester, MD
First Profession: January 31, 1954
Final Vows: July 30, 1959
St. Rose of Lima Parochial School, Eddystone, PA
Notre Dame High School, Moylan, PA
B.S. (Education), Trinity College, Washington, DC, 1963
Certificate in Religious Education, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA (1971)
Clinical Pastoral Education (Holy Cross Hospital, Wheaton, MD; St. Joseph Hospital, Milwaukee, WI)
Certification: National Association of Catholic Chaplains
Elementary School Teaching (1954-1975):
- Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal School, Ridgewood, NY (1954-57)
- St. Jerome School, Hyattsville, MD (1957-61)
- Our Lady of Victory School, Baltimore, MD (1961-65)
- St. Thomas More School, Decatur, GA (1965-71)
Religious Education, Adult Faith Formation & Notre Dame Associates:
- Religious Education Coordinator (K-12, Special Education, Adult Education), St. Thomas More, Decatur, GA (1971-74)
- Religious Education Coordinator, Our Lady of Victory Parish, Baltimore, MD (1974-75)
- Hospitality and facilitation of small-group sharing (Notre Dame Associates; Nurses from Mercy Medical, Derby, PA)
- Weekend Chaplain, Georgetown University Hospital, Washington, DC (1976-78)
- Pastoral Associate, St. Joseph Hospital, Kansas City, MO (1978-85)
- Chaplain, Mercy Catholic Medical Center, Derby, PA (1985-2005)
- (Served for a period of time as Acting Chair of hospital’s pastoral Care Department)
- On-Call Pastoral Associate/Chaplain, St. Agnes Hospital, Baltimore, MD (2005-2014)
- Volunteer Pastoral Visitor, St. Martin’s Home (Little Sisters of the Poor), Baltimore, MD (2005-2014)
- Volunteer, outreach to Decatur’s Black community: economic assistance, tutoring and health care (GA, 1970’s)
- Secretary, Trinity College, Washington, DC (1976-78)
- Ministry of Prayer and Hospitality, Baltimore, MD (2015-16)
- Ministry of Prayer, Villa Julie Residence (September 2016 – January 2017)
- Ministry of Prayer, Mount Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, OH (January 2017 – June 2019)
Prepared by Mary Ann Cook, SND, drawing heavily on the research of Sisters Mary Reilly and Kim Dalgarn